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Language & Communication 29 (2009) 193198


Introduction: Reecting on language and culture eldwork in the early 21st century

Linguistic anthropologists have now been gathering data in the eld for over a century. Many of the institutions, cultural practices, and assumptions that contextualize this eldwork have changed over the course of this century, while others have not. However, at present only approximately 20% of anthropology departments provide formal training in eldwork methods (Gupta and Ferguson, 1995, p. 6), while the eld methods training found in linguistics departments is usually decontextualized, and has as a goal the accurate documentation of linguistic structure without reference to language in use. Even so, eldwork is central to both linguistic and sociocultural anthropology, and although less visibly, to linguistics as well: all structural and theoretical linguistic analysis is predicated upon data that has been gathered in some way.1 The ascendancy, in recent decades, of reexive ethnography has led to the examination of various facets of eldwork, ranging from the where of anthropology and what it means to be in the eld (Gupta and Ferguson, 1995) to ethnography as a genre of writing (Cliord and Marcus, 1986) to the lies of ethnography and moral dilemmas of eld research (Fine, 1993). Far less, however, has been written on eldwork by researchers of language and culture, and this special issue is meant to begin to make explicit and central what is so often implicit and marginal in the articles and books that result from eldwork on language in use, and to consider and critically assess some of the practices, methodologies, and epistemologies of researchers engaged in ethnographically grounded studies of language use and linguistic form. As Duranti (2001, 2003) has noted, the dierent names for elds of inquiry that have language as culture at their center e.g., linguistic anthropology, anthropological linguistics, ethnolinguistics, and sociolinguistics correspond to dierent theoretical and methodological orientations and dierent research paradigms as well. Early linguistic research by American anthropologists fell under the new rubric of Boasian four-eld anthropology; their linguistic eldwork was focused on the documentation of Native American languages, often as a central means of accessing and analyzing culture (Boas, 1911), as well as contributing to a better understanding of the genetic relationships among American languages. The emergence of American anthropology as a discrete eld of inquiry coincided with the increasingly rapid decline of Native American languages and traditional cultural practices, particularly in the West, where contact with English-speaking settlers had historically been more limited. The urgent need to document as many linguistic forms as possible before they entirely disappeared was often part of what was later deemed salvage anthropology or triage linguistics; some practitioners of this sort of eldwork were notoriously autocratic, and prioritized the collection of data above all else (for example, stories still circulate among Native Californians about the extremely prolic J.P. Harrington, whose eldwork practices included grammatical elicitations at the deathbeds of elderly speakers (cf. Laird, 1977)). Students of Boas, most notably Sapir and Kroeber, contributed signicantly not only to

Note that for some linguists working within the paradigm of generative grammar, data produced by introspection is also acceptable.

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language documentation but also to linguistic theory and not only in the areas of historical and typological linguistics. Over time, however, the eldwork methods and goals of scholars in linguistics and anthropology departments diverged. Within linguistic anthropology, there was a shift from working with native speakers to elicit grammatical forms to the analysis of contextualized language in daily use (e.g., Hymes, 1962), along with the social constructs and processes constituted by language (e.g., Bucholtz et al., 1999). Meanwhile, in linguistics, eldwork remains a central form of data development within subelds such as descriptive linguistics and anthropological linguistics; however, within these subelds, the epistemologies and processes of data collection are rarely addressed (with the notable, if limited, exception of the collection of papers in Newman and Ratcli, 2001). In addition, many linguistic researchers working in the core subelds of phonetics, phonology, syntax, and semantics, particularly those developing theories within generative grammar (following, e.g. Chomsky, 1965), either collect data via tightly controlled, decontextualized experiments or rely upon data collected by others. The drive towards a critical evaluation of eldwork and the process of writing up eldwork results has thus been largely absent from public disciplinary discourse on linguistic structure and theory. These divergent research agendas and methods help explicate the widening split in the last few decades between linguistic and anthropological approaches to language data, which have seen limited interdisciplinary discourse and cross-pollination. Theoretical discussions of linguistic eldwork that has as its goal grammatical documentation appear to have as an implicit or explicit model a prototypical eldwork experience involving a researcher who lives in the eld for a prolonged period of time and works with a select group of linguistic consultants (sometimes still called informants or subjects) using a researcher-generated and controlled agenda (cf., e.g. Newman and Ratcli, 2001); these discussions rarely address issues of eldworker eect. By contrast, sociolinguists have been grappling with issues of eldworker eect for the last several decades (e.g. Labov, 1972, 1984; Milroy, 1987a,b; Rickford and McNair-Knox, 1994) and, more recently, with issues of eldworker power and control (e.g., Cameron et al., 1992); here, the prototypical scenario appears to be an urban monolingual but multidialectal setting where the main method of data gathering is the sociolinguistic interview. For many (but certainly not all) linguistic anthropologists, the prototypical eldwork scenario appears to be a rural and remote monolingual setting in which the researcher is a participant observer. Linguistic anthropologists have most notably problematized eldwork and the production of knowledge via increased attention paid to local norms and values as well as to the context within which the researcher is situated (e.g., Briggs, 1984; Duranti, 1997; Ochs, 1978; Silverstein, 1997). Within sociocultural anthropology, reexive ethnography, along with writings on reexivity, has attempted to account for the eldworkers positionality and role in the selection and construction of knowledge (e.g., Cliord and Marcus, 1986; Rosaldo, 1989; Ruby, 1982; Scholte, 1972). Some writing on reexive ethnography has come from an explicitly feminist or postmodern perspective, or a combination of the two (e.g., Wolf, 1992), as part of an attempt to develop new epistemologies and means of analysis. As one might expect, with the wide acceptance of and interest in reexive ethnography, the pendulum has begun its swing back, and several recent critical reassessments question precisely when considerations of reexivity and positionality are in fact actually useful (e.g., Robertson, 2002; Salzman, 2002). For example, Salzman (2002, p. 812) suggests that rather than having individual researchers extensively reect on their subjectivity and place themselves at the center of their ethnographic narratives, ethnographic research would be better served by using collaborative research teams in which individual members can challenge and test each others perspectives and ndings. This move towards collaborative research teams has also been suggested, and periodically implemented, by scholars working on the documentation and revitalization of contracting languages. The increasing engagement by linguists and anthropologists with speech communities of contracting languages has brought to the forefront the need to reconsider traditional eldwork interactions and agendas. Researchers such as Hill (2002), Dorian (1989, 2002), Hinton (2001, 2002), and England (2002, 2003) have drawn attention to the ways in which linguistic researchers can and should engage in both collaboration with and advocacy for the language communities with whom they work. This has led to an increasing focus on the use of linguistic eldwork to develop tools for local communities designed to aid their language documentation and revitalization eorts (e.g., Hinton and Hale, 2001). Traditionally, linguistic and anthropological documentation is geared towards exploring and answering questions of interest to academics and academic departments; by contrast, many language communities are more interested in working with linguists and

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anthropologists to develop resources that will aid in the reinvigoration of traditional linguistic and cultural practices. The development of such resources requires a shift in eldwork praxis away from the monogenesis of research questions and complete researcher control of continued intellectual exploration. These trends have also led to an exploration of the ways in which the expert attitudes of linguists and anthropologists are encoded in their terminology (Hill, 2002); recognizing and mitigating the potentially damaging impact of technical academic jargon on contracting speech communities requires a willingness to critically examine multiple aspects of the eldwork process and results. In addition, work with contracting languages brings up issues of scholarly power and epistemological authority; for example, Silverstein (2003, pp. 12) suggests that small languages are comparable to other natural resources in developing locations that are exploited by non-local professionals, and that the culture of language in the community being studied may be quite at variance phenomenally and epistemologically with the culture of Linguistic Science (cf. Kroskrity, 1998 for another useful examination of local ideologies associated with language varieties and their use). This suggests a need to understand and incorporate local language ideologies and stances, both when working in the eld and within academic contexts. For example, Nevins (2004) describes a controversy based on conicting language ideologies that threatened a language maintenance program in Arizona, concluding that local ideologies and perceptions of language learning and preservation must be incorporated into revitalization and maintenance programs in order for them to succeed, and Leonard (2008), following on his work with the Miami language and members of the Miami community, has suggested a reconceptualization of extinct languages as sleeping. This shifting focus in linguistic eldwork from documentation solely for academic purposes to advocacy and the development of community-centered work product requires a rethinking of prototypical conceptualizations of the eldwork setting, of the role of the linguistic researcher relative to the eld site, and of formal conceptualizations of the project of eldwork itself. Research on language ideologies not only informs an understanding of eldwork relationships by exploring the congruencies and conicts between the ideologies of eldworkers and community members, but also provides insight into relationships among academic disciplines, with their often unspoken attitudes towards eldwork, communities, and the data developed through the eldwork process. As Gal and Irvine have noted, language ideologies have inuenced disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences and are inscribed and reproduced in the contrasting practices through which dierent disciplines claim access to specialized knowledge (1995, p. 871), which has resulted, they propose, in the partial invisibility of the diverse methods and more integrative aspects of research in linguistic anthropology. While the conjunction of linguistics and anthropology has long oered a deep and wide toolkit of eld and analytical methods, pervasive ideologies in which the study of language is the purview of an autonomous linguistics and outside the bounds of anthropological research (Gal and Irvine 1995, p. 992) has slowed the kinds of conversational exchanges suggested by the papers in this volume. However, books aimed at introducing students to the contextualized study of language (Duranti, 1997; Johnstone, 2008) counter such ideological assumptions, along with recent work on the practice of transcription that examines the ways in which this seemingly denotational and highly technical practice also encodes stances toward power and authority and understandings of situated knowledge (Bucholtz, 2000; Du Bois et al., 1993; Ochs, 1978; Vigoroux, 2007). Duranti, in addition to suggesting the need to explicitly discuss and document the dialogical practices out of which descriptions are born, also notes that new recording technologies further complicate the technical, political, and moral problems confronting eldworkers (1997, pp. 8587). In addition, Bucholtz and Hall (2004, 2005) have set forth an agenda to develop explicit connections and conversations between sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, bridging the kinds of gaps mentioned above, and delineating the toolkit already available to researchers, with methods and approaches drawn from diverse academic disciplines. In their articulation of what they call the sociocultural linguistic perspective, they focus on the need for researchers of language in use to include both the details of language and the workings of culture and society (Bucholtz and Hall, 2005, p. 586). Many of the authors of the papers in this volume consider ways to include these areas of inquiry in their ` -vis the eldwork, both in the data-gathering process and in understanding their role as eldworker vis-a eld site, and in fact argue explicitly that such integration is crucial for both the development of linguistic data, and for the development and maintenance of relationships between the eldworker and the language community within which the researcher is working.


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A number of related themes appear throughout the papers in this volume, including the importance of utilizing traditional anthropological research methodologies in linguistic research, the insights available from the examination of the social identities of eldworkers and their relationship to the communities with whom they work, and the need for collaboration in the eldwork process. And underlying each paper, of course, is the desire to make explicit and central the analysis of the project of eldwork itself, and to suggest ways to reform and rene that project in light of the outcome of these analyses. While formal linguistic training does include a eldwork component, it rarely includes exposure to other tools commonly used by anthropologists in the eld, for example, kinship analyses. In her discussion of eldwork with the signing community of Ban Khor, Thailand, Nonaka argues for the importance of incorporating such traditional anthropological tools into linguistic eldwork. In order to adequately assess the vitality of Ban Khor Sign Language, Nonaka makes use of mapping, surname analysis, kinship diagramming, medical genetic pedigrees, and social network analysis. Moores paper brings the anthropological lens to bear on that most linguistic of questions, linguistic competence; in Moores paper, however, it is the linguistic competence of the eldworker that is scrutinized. In a shift from the position where a lack of uent linguistic competence in all languages of a eld site is to be seen as a decit, Moore begins the work of analyzing the eldworkers linguistic competence as one factor among many in a eld setting. The reexivity of these papers includes the examination of the role of the eldworker in the eld setting, which while widely discussed among sociocultural anthropologists, is less frequently addressed by scholars engaged in projects in which linguistic data is at the center. More subtly, many papers in this volume address the ways in which the researcher may be aected by local ideologies and projects of which they may be completely unaware. For example, Suslak explores the ways in which local understandings of social categories such as age not only aect the dynamics of language loss and retention, but also inexorably absorb the eldworker, who must be integrated into such local understandings, with all of their attendant implications. And Wertheim discusses the process by which her carefully prepared strategies for self-presentation to locate herself most productively as a participant-observer in Tatarstan were promptly co-opted and utilized to promote local linguistic ideologies and projects. Riley looks at another aspect of eldworker co-optation by considering the ways in which she not only affected her data in the analytical process, but was herself being socialized into particular sorts of linguistic and social behaviors as she worked collaboratively in the eld to transcribe and analyze the data she had gathered. The convoluted nature of the role of eldworker and the problematization of that role is further taken up by Ahlers as she describes the process of incorporating local agendas into formerly outsider-generated research and looks at the importance of developing multiplex relationships within the eld, as well as at the ways in which promoting collaboration in research design and execution leads both to a more productive eld relationship and to higher quality research output. These papers thus represent a next step in an ongoing conversation about the nature and role of eldwork focused on contextualized language, particularly with reference to three crucial areas of concern: the listing and assessment of the methodologies, traditional and otherwise, that are useful in the eld, along with a discussion of how, when, and why they are most productive; the continuing development of interdisciplinary conversations in order to inform eldwork praxis; and an explicit discussion of the ways in which these assessments and conversations can be incorporated into the training and professionalization of new members of our elds. References
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Jocelyn C. Ahlers Department of Liberal Studies, California State University, San Marcos, Twin Oaks Valley Rd., San Marcos, CA 92096, United States E-mail address: Suzanne A. Wertheim Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, 341 Haines Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553, United States Fax: +1 310 206 7833 E-mail address: